The ocelli pondBonhomme de chemin

Reviews 09.02.2022

Sans chemin, the latest album by Thomas Bonvalet's project Ocelle Mare, released in October, is an out-of-this-world masterpiece in which the most unexpected instruments and devices form the framework of a music unlike any other, which seems to be at one with its environment. It takes on a singular relief at a time when its author has just announced a temporary end to his musical activity, due to serious problems of hyperacusis.

Thomas Bonvalet has always been fond of the byways. Those paths that are precisely not paths at all. Following on from the already splendid Snaking (2012) and Time on the ground (2017), Sans chemin is the title of the 6th album of his project l'ocelle mare, published jointly last autumn by Shelter Press - home to many contemporary musical mavericks - and Murailles Music. If I'm talking about it today, it's because the CD hasn't stopped inviting itself on my turntable since its publication. It is also because I was particularly saddened to learn on February 2nd, on the Facebook page of l'ocelle Mare, that serious problems of hyperacusis forced Thomas Bonvalet to give up any musical activity until further notice.

I was already so happy to see this man-orchestra live again, as if possessed by music, whose discovery on stage in Rennes a few years ago - in the striking setting of a room in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, at the invitation of the Autres Mesures festival - had been a shock... All the more so as the videos accompanying the recent publication of Sans chemin suggested the best of his stage transposition: 

A self-taught musician who has been passionate about music since the age of 11, Thomas Bonvalet is one of those rare artists who manage to assert an authentic personality from their very first attempts, and who immediately show an undeniable singularity. This singularity was first expressed as a duo, alongside drummer Vincent Beysselance, within Cheval de frise. At the turn of the millennium, the duo, with its experimental rock (some say: "avant-rock") and instrumental rock from elsewhere, unstructured and yet incredibly composed, imposed itself as the little brother of the brilliant Chicagoans of Gastr Del Sol :

A singularity that is coupled with a troubling integrity, as evidenced since 2005 by Thomas Bonvalet's solo career under the beautiful pseudonym of the ocelle mare: "It comes from my taste for ponds and puddles, their presence..." he explained to me recently. There are many ponds in the forest of La Double, in the Dordogne, where I lived for a few years in a hut. I found the word "ocelli" beautiful, and I liked the image of an ocelli pond, an eye-pool or a false eye-pool...". And if Thomas Bonvalet were to be ranked among the retarded heirs of the American transcendentalism of Thoreau and Emerson? With the ocelle mare in any case, the musician distances himself from the classical guitar by adding new instruments or accessories - metronomes, body percussion or not, six-string banjo, tuning forks, harmonica frames, mobile phone... -, most often rendered unrecognisable, whose slightest sound combinations he explores and exhausts. To the point of having built a stage set-up that is both rudimentary and hyper-sophisticated - just like his modern and old-fashioned appearance, which adds a touch of strangeness and magical realism to his music - allowing him to chisel out his out-of-date compositions live.

In these compositions, gesture and manipulation therefore play an essential role. Gestures, as the Murailles Music website rightly points out, "that are at once very learned and very simple, that sovereignly refuse the categories of the modern and the archaic, of the natural and the cultural" and prefer to summon up "a whole genealogy, both intimate and collective, musical and technical, the memory of a thousand musics and a thousand times ... "
There is thus always a great deal of life in the recordings of Ocelle Mare, and this organic, natural dimension is one of the most striking features of a musical universe that in many other respects borders on abstraction (his pieces never have a title, only a number, with the exception of those on Sans chemin, which describe the instrumentarium adopted). His 5th album, Temps en terre, was the first to be recorded in a studio: the previous ones had been recorded in caves, huts, churches or forests - as if the place where he plays - its presence, its vibration - were for Thomas Bonvalet an instrument in its own right. com for the Sonic Protest festival: it includes works by Kapsberger and Beethoven as well as Inuit, Serbian and Cambodian songs, the cries of coypu and the sounds of clocks and music boxes recorded at the Royal Palace in Madrid... 

This uncompromising, classification-resistant, radical journey has the good taste of never setting up the radical as a posture - for Bonvalet, it would rather be a second nature, an evidence and a requirement. It predestined its author to cross paths with many other musical mavericks of all stripes, from Sylvain Lemêtre to Arlt, from Radikal Satan to Arnaud Rivière, from Powerdove to Jean-Luc Guionnet. It was during the tour he undertook with the latter, in 2017, that the first signs of his hyperacusis appeared.

The invasion of tinnitus in his life, he tells us, marked a new bifurcation for him, forcing him to clear a new path: "I went back to concerts, protecting myself, and at the same time I developed a musical practice on the scale of my hyperacusis: unamplified electric guitar, mini-amps put at a distance, percussion replaced by electronic pulsations, etc . That's how I composed the material for Sans chemin. This is how I composed the material for Sans chemin. When I envisaged my new playing device for the adaptation of these new experiments to concerts, I wanted to keep this relationship of distance with the sound elements, to no longer have my head in the amplifiers, and I wanted to be able to be in movement, not to be trapped in the sound by a motionless spatial situation. I wanted to create sound planes in a sort of panorama, from the simple unamplified acoustic presence, from the mini amplification, to the greatest amplification of distance... I also timed things much more to better determine their place in the sound space... For example, small tambourines on mini amplifiers, vibrating and reacting on certain frequencies. The things thus multiplied and having a different reactivity create a kind of movement. Movement of my body, movement of objects... games of interactions and feedbacks.

Sans chemin thus marks the appearance of movement, of displacement in Bonvalet's music, and at the same time a high point in his career. These breaths and choppy harmonies, these squeaks and rattles, these noises, these rhythms and notes, which one cannot tell whether they are archaic or technological, natural or mechanical, all these intertwined textures take on even more pronounced relief. "I still hope to be able to make music again one day, in one way or another, but it's not at all conceivable at the moment. "We too remain hopeful, and we wish him a speedy recovery. Without a path does not mean, thank God, without a way out.

David Sanson

Photo © Yuta Arima
Photo © Agence Culturelle Départementale Dordogne-Périgord
Drawing © Sylvain Cnudde
Photos © Laurent Orseau


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